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The Battle over Immigration Has Woken up an Electoral Sleeping Giant -- Election Guide

See how Obama and McCain compare on everything from border fences to Homeland Security's brutal immigrant detention network.

By AlterNet
Posted October 17, 2008

For full story see…
The Battle over Immigration Has Woken up an Electoral Sleeping Giant

A new report suggests that "2008 will be the year of the immigrant and Latino voter," as "unprecedented numbers of immigrants are becoming citizens and registering to vote." The stakes, according to the report by America's Voice, an immigrants' rights group, "could not be higher."

Pro-immigrant groups are registering hundreds of thousands of new citizens to vote. They, along with earlier generations of immigrants, are being mobilized in large part by the passions surrounding the often heated debate over immigration.

The report calls members of these communities a "sleeping giant," awoken by the rhetoric of the anti-immigration hardliners who have often dominated debate over the issue. The We Are America Alliance -- with a $10 million field operation -- is trying to reach the ambitious goal of registering a half-million new voters an getting a million members of immigrant communities to the polls. Many are located in the crucial battleground states that will ultimately decide the election. The alliance has registered over 83,000 new voters in Florida and 35,000 in Pennsylvania. In Colorado, nearly 35,000 new voters could have a decisive impact on the Presidential contest. In Nevada, the 52,000 new voters the alliance registered are almost 2.5 times the margin of victory in that state in the 2004 presidential election (George W. Bush won Nevada by 21,500 votes). And the nearly 40,000 new registrations in New Mexico could be a major factor in a state that supported George W. Bush by less than 6,000 votes in 2004 and has an open U.S. Senate seat in 2008.

If organizers can deliver on their promises, it may signal a sea-change in American politics. As the report's authors predict, "Energized by their first leap into the political process, these new citizens will not rest after they cast their votes, and will continue to press their elected officials to enact laws that they support."

In the wake of two failed attempts to pass a Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) measure in recent years, immigrant rights advocates' worst fears have materialized. As a recent New York Times editorial put it, "the Bush administration keeps raiding factories and farms, terrorizing immigrant families while exposing horrific accounts of workplace abuses. Children toil in slaughterhouses; detainees languish in federal lockups, dying without decent medical care. Day laborers are harassed and robbed of wages. An ineffective border fence is behind schedule and millions over budget. Local enforcers drag citizens and legal residents into their nets, to the cheers of the Minutemen."

It's is a crucially important issue -- a majority of Americans say they want the government to fix our broken immigration system -- but it's getting little attention in this year's presidential race. In large part, that's because although John McCain's positions on immigration have shifted since he launched his run for the White House, his philosophical approach is very similar to that of Barack Obama. In fact, they both co-sponsored the 2007 Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill that was defeated in the Senate.

But the candidates do have some differences, and we dug deep into the their voting records and public statements to find out where they stand on seven contentious issues within the larger immigration debate.

1. A LARGE UNDOCUMENTED POPULATION

There are 12 million to 20 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. They are not subject to background checks for criminal pasts, and their entry violates U.S. law. They represent an easily exploited pool of workers, face abuses with little legal recourse and, while they contribute more in tax revenues than they cost overall, they represent a fiscal burden to the local communities in which they're concentrated.

Solution: Institute comprehensive workplace reform and immigration control that would: enforce wage, overtime and other labor laws; guarantee workers the right to organize in order to eliminate the unregulated jobs that many undocumented immigrants perform; reform the legal immigration system; reform trade and other economic policies that encourage migration; establish a process of legalization for those already in the country; and step up auditing and enforcement measures.

Obama's position: Obama was a co-sponsor of the senate compromise called 'comprehensive immigration reform,' which included a process of legalization for those immigrants already in the United States who met certain conditions, the establishment of an employer verification system and increases in workplace immigration enforcement. He supports "additional personnel, infrastructure and technology on the border" and has called for working more closely with the Mexican government to improve economic development in that country, the source of more than half of all undocumented immigrants in the United States. He has co-sponsored legislation that would establish an employer verification system, speed FBI background checks and assure that the fees required to go through the legal citizenship process are not out of reach. Obama would emphasize keeping families together in determining who would be eligible to migrate to the United States.

McCain's position: McCain was a champion of comprehensive immigration reform, but now he says he is "committed to a two-step process" that would first focus on "securing the borders" and would be followed by the other measures of comprehensive reform. He has proposed the construction of a "virtual border fence" and the deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), along with other technologies. Once border state governors "certify that the border is secure," McCain would call for the addition of a process of legalization for those immigrants already in the country and the prosecution of "bad actor" employers who hire unauthorized workers. He would also eliminate the backlog of applicants for legal status. McCain would emphasize "America's labor needs" in determining who would be eligible to migrate to the United States. He favors a variety of temporary worker programs.

Learn more: Immigration Policy Center, Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

For full story see…
The Battle over Immigration Has Woken up an Electoral Sleeping Giant

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